Wren Roland is graduating college with a degree in film studies. He still doesn’t know what’s next for him, though he does know he will be spending his summer in his happiest place, the drive-in theater that is practically his second home. Even better, he will be a manager this summer and joined at work by his two best friends. The one negative for Wren is his lack of a romantic life. Wren is turning 22 and has never been kissed, something particularly hard for him given he has long dreamed of the perfect first kiss, one like so many he has seen in the movies. So when Wren gets birthday drunk, he decides he will email his four “almost kisses” that occurred before he came out and share his thoughts on those past events. Wren is, of course, horrified when he sobers up the next day, but he hopes no one will mention it and he can forget all his embarrassment.
Of course, that plan falls apart when Wren learns that his former close friend and almost kiss recipient, Derick Haverford, is working social media marketing for the drive-in this summer. Wren and Derick were close for years, until Derick ghosted Wren in college. Now, not only does Wren have to face the stress of seeing a former crush who dropped out of his life, he has to deal with the fact that he sent Derick such an embarrassing email. Not to mention that Wren’s crush on Derick never quite went away.
Even as Wren and Derick deal with the awkwardness at work, things are in upheaval as it is clear the drive-in is struggling financially. Wren would love to help keep it open, as it is both historically significant to the town, as well as a place much beloved to him personally. It leads Wren to try tracking down a reclusive local director, one who hasn’t been seen in public for years. Her old film may be just the means to drive attention to the theater, but getting her to agree isn’t going to be easy.
As the summer goes on, tensions thaw between Wren and Derick, and soon they are becoming friends. Even more than that, they are falling for one another. Derick even helps Wren with his project to save the theater, and Wren begins to dream of a future for them together. But even as the men are building their relationship, the future of the drive-in remains uncertain. Not to mention there are secrets that could pull Wren and Derick apart just as they are getting started.
Never Been Kissed is a charming, new adult story with some fun movie references and a light, humorous tone. Wren is our POV character and we learn right away he is passionate about movies, and the drive-in in particular. He practically grew up there and returning each season feels like coming home, something he particularly needs as he graduates college without a clear direction. Wren is an entertaining narrator, a bit quirky and high stress, but also sweet and funny. The set up here has a bit of a lovers reunited vibe and a bit of an enemies to lovers feel, though it is not quite either. Wren and Derick were close friends growing up, and their kiss was sort of a near miss, though they were never officially dating or even obviously romantically involved. Wren is also quite angry at Derick for dropping out of his life without a word, and Derick knows he screwed up, so the guys have some sorting things out to do before they can ease back into that friendship they once had. And things are complicated at the start by Wren’s drunk email, made worse when he realizes Derick will be working with him that summer. I did like the set up here, though it doesn’t play out quite as well as I’d hoped. We never get to see the email or hear any details, so I didn’t get enough sense of what exactly Wren said or why it was so awful. Also, it really doesn’t amount to anything, as even if he never sent the message, Wren would have been forced to reconnect with Derick anyway, since they are working together. So this is sort of set up as this big, embarrassing event, but I don’t think the story makes as much out of it as it could.
It doesn’t take long for Derick to apologize and the guys to rekindle their friendship. Wren is still very into Derick, but he doesn’t think his feelings are returned, so the guys start with a friendship that slowly builds to more. There is a sweetness here, particularly as Wren starts to realize some aspects of his own sexual identity for the first time. We don’t get to know as much about Derick as I would have liked, other than having sort of generically bad parents. Given how things play out across the story, I feel like more time spent getting to know him and his family would have rounded things out a little better. The story has a very new adult feel, which I enjoyed, though I do think at times these guys read as a bit younger than their age. And while the transition into “real life” post college is touched on briefly, it isn’t really explored much given the way it is affecting both men.
The plot here moves beyond the relationship to focus on two areas that begin to intertwine. The first is the fate of the drive-in, and the second is Wren tracking down and befriending this reclusive director, Alice. I enjoyed the friendship that develops between Wren, Derick, and Alice, and the way her part of the story plays out. Things are a little bit clunkier at the end and come together a little patly, but there is a nice feel to this part of the plot, almost as if we are watching a movie of the town that rallies together, and I think that Janovsky plays with this tone and vibe in ways that work well with the storyline.
Overall, I found this one cute and fun, with a nice charm to the book and the characters. This is Janovsky’s debut work and I was quite impressed. It looks like there will be more books in this series to come and this is a great start.